Arms dealers' gala disrupted by pro-Palestine protesters in London

Arms dealers' gala disrupted by pro-Palestine protesters in London
Business people from arms firms were forced to walk through a crowd of protesters chanting “Shame on you” as they entered a top London hotel hosting a gala.
5 min read
31 January, 2024
Anti-war protesters and pro-Palestine activists gather at an arms industry gala in London [The New Arab]

Attendees of a gala to celebrate the British arms industry were met by anti-war and pro-Palestine demonstrators outside a five-star hotel in London on Tuesday, as the UK government comes under scrutiny for its sale of weapons to Israel during the war on Gaza.

Around one hundred demonstrators gathered on London’s Park Lane on Tuesday evening to disrupt the event that was sponsored by leading international weapons manufacturers BAE Systems and Babcock and Moog – both of whom make weapon components for the Israeli army.

Men and women dressed in suits and business attire were forced to walk through a crowd of protesters chanting "Shame on you", "Enjoy your genocidal dinner", and "Your hands are covered in Palestinian blood" as they entered the five-star JW Marriott Grosvenor House hotel.

Emily Apple, Media Coordinator at the UK-based Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) group which organised the protest, said: "This is a vile event aimed at enabling arms dealers to sell more weapons and fuel conflict across the world."

"The very people attending this dinner are complicit in war crimes. They are dining on the profits of genocide."

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's government was pushed to undergo a judicial review in December into arms exports to Israel, after a unit at the foreign office flagged "serious concerns" that Israel might have breached international humanitarian law in its war on Gaza, where around 27,000 Palestinians have been killed.

The review came in tandem with a case brought to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by South Africa earlier this month which accused Israel of breaking its commitments under the Genocide Convention.

The annual corporate dinner is run by the ADS, the UK trade association for defence, security and aerospace companies.

The event, which cost diners up to £510, is described as a "delightful evening of entertainment, dinner and networking" with the body’s 1,300 members, "alongside invited Parliamentarians, members of the Armed Forces, and friends of our sectors".

Around one hundred protesters, waving Palestinian flags and holding banners – one of which read "Human lives smashed for cash" – gathered outside the entrance to the hotel.

Metropolitan Police officers intervened to assist the diners to enter the venue through the crowd of protesters, who at times walked alongside the diners and asked: "Are you making money from war?" and "How many children have you killed today?".

One of the demonstrators, 31 year old Wassig, told The New Arab that the killing of thousands of Palestinian children in Gaza had compelled him to join the protest.

He said: "What’s happening in Gaza has made me come down tonight, but also because I have fled conflict.

"I have experience of what war looks like, I’ve seen it and know what it is like to live among bullets and the rest of it."

Wassig, who now lives in London, fled war-torn Sudan in 2014 to claim asylum in the UK.

"It is beyond imagination that these guys still have the appetite to sell arms," he said.

Another protester, psychologist Tamara Abood, told The New Arab that the arms industry was "instrumental in enabling genocide, not just in Gaza but around the world".

"We are orphaning children in the thousands; we do it every single day and we are becoming numb to the numbers," she said.

"They’ll be people in there this evening that will have tucked their children up in bed before they’ve come out to dine on the profits from the deaths of other people’s children, and that is grotesque."

The arms industry is a major cog in the UK economy, with the country making £12 billion in defence sales in 2022, according to the Department for Business and Trade.

Worldwide military spending is at an all time high, while the outbreak of the Israel's war on Gaza in October triggered a rise in the value of shares for weapons contractors on Wall Street.

BAE Systems, one of the largest international defence companies, manufactures components of the F-35 fighter jet, currently used by Israel in its devastating aerial bombardment of Gaza.

A new satellite data analysis reported by the BBC this week revealed that as many as half of Gaza’s buildings have been damaged or destroyed by Israel.

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Israel and Saudi Arabia are some of the UK’s largest clients. Last year, CAAT brought a case to the UK’s High Court for a judicial review into sales to Saudi Arabia but it was dismissed.

Rights groups have accused Saudi Arabia of human rights violations in its role in Yemen’s protracted war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and resulted in a humanitarian disaster in one of the world’s poorest countries.

In a statement to The New Arab in response to the protests demands, ADS said: "Our sectors are vital contributors to UK prosperity. We are dedicated to supporting industry, civil society and our armed forces to navigate an increasingly challenging geopolitical environment."

The association added that they are "passionate supporters of the right to a peaceful protest".

The Metropolitan Police said that two women who were arrested on suspicion of criminal damage at the protest were later released.